[iDC] viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace

Charles Turner vze26m98 at optonline.net
Tue Jun 26 09:25:10 EDT 2007

danah boyd wrote on 6/24/07 at 11:47 PM

>I've been trying to write an essay for a while about the class  
>dynamics around Facebook and MySpace.  I finally gave up and realized  
>that I didn't have the proper words for talking about this issue so I  
>wrote an essay with caveats.  I offer it to you to tear to shreds in  
>the hopes that maybe some good can come out of it.

HI there-

I have two comments:

1) As someone on your blog pointed out, I think Bourdieu's _Distinction_
would be an invaluable read for the kind of analysis you're trying to

2) I wonder if at this point in your study you're developing your notion
of class out of the perceived division you found between MySpace and
Facebook? How would your presentation be different if you were looking
at MySpace/Facebook from an already-developed analytical position on
race and class?

I'm not a great MySpace/Facebook habituee, but I couldn't help saying to
myself as I read your essay: "What about City College where I teach?"
City College is in Harlem and is part of the CUNY system, the third
largest university system in the U.S. with 450,000 enrollees. City
College has 10,000 students and has a very strong science/'engineering
offering, historially know as "the poor man's Harvard."

I teach a class that's part of the core curriculum so I see a
cross-section of the student body: students who really aren't prepared
for college and will flunk-out at the end of their first semester; to
students who will transfer to Ivy League schools before they graduate.
Overwhelmingly, the students are immigrant, working to support
themselves, and are the first in their family to go to college.

Given any section or semster, I could be teaching a class that's 2/3rds
Dominican; or half Muslim when you count everyone from Egypt,
Montenegro, Bangladesh, Pakistan and the Sene-Gambia. Often it's 10
different native languages for the 35 students in a classroom. There's a
not-surprisingly low aquaintance with computer technology, but
surprisingly, I'd say 80-90% of my students are involved in a formal
religion of some sort.

The students themselves have no trouble talking about issues of race and
class, and their positions on these matters are pretty sophisticated and
self-aware. Most students are committed to getting an education (it's
coming out of their wallet), but aren't often directly assimilationist.
They're wary of school and teachers.

More broadly, my students are quite conscious of their cultural
traditions and the current offer that the US makes as an opportunity for
material/social advancement. The various accommodations they make range
from quite conservative, to open participation in American youth
culture. But it is a very "a la carte" selection and results in very
original cultural configurations.

It seems that there are about 1,500 CCNY students on Facebook, or about
15% of the student body. On the other hand in MySpace, try typing in
"ccny" as a search term. Not untypical is stuff like Michio Kaku's blog:


I searched for a few of my former students, and some of their obvious
character traits match with their choice of a community, but not always.
More importantly, academic performance; "good kid/bad kid" distinctions
(which I see as wholly irrelevant as a characterization of my students);
or professed desires to succeed had no correlation with where they chose
to hang out.

I think many of my intuitive observations could  be generalized across
the CUNY population, and extended to certain schools in the SUNY system
as well (eg Buffalo). So this is a huge population that might be
required study for any complete analysis of race and class divisions in
youthful social media.

Best, Charles

<vze26m98 at optonline.net>

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